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Dispelling the palliative care myth

Palliative care isn’t just about dying. It’s also about improving the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.

Specilaist palliative care nurse practitioner Peter Jenkin with a patient
Specilaist palliative care nurse practitioner Peter Jenkin with a patient

In Australia, people can access palliative care from a variety of sources including in hospital, in the community and in aged care facilities with support from a team of health professionals.

Aged care providers, whether residential or community focused, do play an important role in the palliative care process when caring for older people and their family members. Wherever possible, aged care providers will work with doctors and family to support the person to stay in residential care, with the staff they know and in a familiar environment.

To provide direct palliative clinical care, support and education at its residential sites, South Australian residential aged care provider Resthaven employs specialist palliative care nurse practitioner Peter Jenkin. He points out palliative care supports a person, and their family and friends in many ways.

“Just as it is important to meet a person’s physical needs, their spiritual needs must be met,” says Mr Jenkin. “This may be religious, or may reflect the need to explore existential questions and concerns.”

And it’s not just the person who’s dying who needs support. Mr Jenkins highlights a death rarely happens in isolation. “Family and significant others are affected as a person approaches death. Supporting them with information allows them to prepare for their loss and assist in the grieving process,” he says.

Mr Jenkins says extensive work has occurred nationally to improve knowledge and skills of aged care staff in providing a palliative approach to meet the needs of older persons as they approached the end of their lives.

“There are many things to consider,” he says. “Talking about these things doesn’t mean you’re tempting fate. Ultimately, we would prefer to retain control over who is present, to say goodbye, to ensure our wishes are respected and not to have life prolonged pointlessly.”

(TAC 2016)

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